J.J. Rendon / PHOTO COURTESY OF Richard Griffiths
Originally from Venezuela, J.J. Rendón has combined his expertise in psychology and advertising to run strategy on campaigns throughout Latin America since the late 1980s. Just in the last few years, he has helped to guide the winning presidential campaigns of Porfirio Lobo Sosa in Honduras and Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia.
What is your earliest political memory?
Working with my mother putting up posters for campaigns in my home country of Venezuela.
Who is your political hero?
Benjamin Franklin and Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli.
Who is the Democrat you admire most?
Franklin D. Roosevelt, because of his courage, the fact that he overcame adversity and that he was a leader with conviction.
Who is the Republican you admire most?
Abraham Lincoln, because he was a brilliant strategist and a complex man whose thinking was beyond his time.
Who do you admire most among your fellow political consultants?
James Carville, Karl rove and Joseph Napolitan—the pioneer of our industry. I admire these consultants because, like me, they stick with their clients and are goal oriented. I also admire the fact that they are well prepared and succeed on the campaigns they choose to work on.
What is your best story from the campaign trail?
Earlier in my career, I was asked to fly to the office of crisis management to visit with a president. I sat down, and the conversation was very formal and polite. The president asked, “Coffee?” “Yes,” I replied. “Sugar?” “Yes, please.” Then I asked, “How are things?” “Fine,” he replied. “Milk?” “How are things, Mr. President?” I asked again. He replied more loudly, “Fine.” Finally, in a very strong voice, I said, “Mr. President, things are not fine. If they were, I would not be here. So tell me, how are things?” The president bowed his head and began to tell me a list of massive problems, which we fixed one by one. This story reminds me that people in power are not used to sharing negative things, or mistakes they may have made. My job is to solve problems, to fix things for them and to get past the BS and find the real problem, like a surgeon.
What would you be doing professionally if you were not working in politics?
I would be a teacher, therapist, writer, professional speaker, documentary filmmaker or stand-up comedy writer.
What is your biggest fear?
That [venezuela President Hugo] Chávez will remain in power. Also, that I won’t be able to find solutions for my clients.
What is your biggest regret?
That Chávez is still in power.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
The recent election of Colombian President Juan
How would you describe yourself in one word?
What is your favorite book?
The Art of War by Sun Tzu. But every book that I read becomes my favorite. Each time I pick up a new one, I find something new and interesting in it.